Morocco: Essaouira Revisited

Morocco: Essaouira Revisited

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We’re lucky enough to be staying in a beautiful riad owned by Andy and Tim, two Brighton friends who set off on their own Essaouiran adventure. Their house, Dar Sabon is wonderfully managed by Agne as a B&B. €35 a night and worth every penny (cent).

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You know when you’ve eaten too much when your host says: ‘Haven’t you done well’ on seeing that you’ve scoffed all the breakfast. Put it in front of us and we’ll eat it.

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Today we shopped with old friends. Unis is our slipper man who has kept my entire family and friends in babouches for 13 years. This time the grandtwins get their inaugural pair. Unis’ shop is on the edge of the spice market off the main street.

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We also found my oldest Essaouiran friend, Talib, who I met when he was 17 in 2001. He is now 30. Despite a gap of 5 years since we last met, he welcomes us with open arms and genuine pleasure. Talib has been to England for the first time this year to work on Moroccan markets in Peterborough and Burgess Hill – he was only a few miles up the road from me and I didn’t know. Talib says he liked Primark!

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Like many Moroccans, Talib speaks multiple languages; I have read that they have a particular knack for it. He’s also a fantastic cook and has made me many a tagine. Again, like many Moroccans I’ve met, Talib has a fantastic sense of humour and a really silly, playful nature. People here often seem very willing to have a joke with you. This is especially true if you learn just a few basic words of Arabic and ask people what things are in Arabic. So few people bother, but it is hugely welcomed. I learned the word for bread from a street bread seller and ended up selling bread with him from his barrow. Keith and I have been going to our local Co-op for almost two years and have yet to crack a smile from most of the staff there. And not a diagnosis between them as far as I know.

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I made friends with a very cheeky cat who put his paw in Keith’s tagine and ate a home made jammy dodger. I also made the mistake of drinking mint tea, which has caffeine in it as well as a truckload of sugar. I know this because I drank some the other day. As a person extremely sensitive to caffeine this makes me a particular idiot. A very talkative and panicky one at that.

We wandered around La Skala, the walled, sea facing part of the city where artists and craftspeople sell their stuff.

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Today’s bargain dinner was a delicious sardine stew in a bread loaf: £1.30 – for two of us. Eating well on a budget is so easy here.

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Morocco: Trying Not To Buy A House in Essaouira (Again)

Morocco: Trying Not To Buy A House in Essaouira (Again)

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Today we leave the peaceful and tiny kitten filled Les Jardins des Lilas set in the midst of the madness that is Marrakech medina to catch a bus to the seaside. The rain is gone. The sun is out, the sky is a particularly Moroccan shade of blue and we’re on our way to Essaouira or ‘Home’ as it was once destined to be (I am building intrigue here, can you tell?).

A final taxi ride to the train station to catch the bus (yep) made me thankful that I hadn’t checked my blood pressure (I need to keep an eye on it due to the kidney disease). Today was not a good day for blood pressure. As a person who experiences a lot of anxiety which relates to things that are not really worth worrying about, it made quite a refreshing change to be actually genuinely terrified about something concrete and real. How do these people not kill each other? The taxi driver seemed to love the constant within a whisker of serious injury life he had. His almost continuous use of the horn and derision of anyone travelling with less speed and more caution delighted him. Must be the mint tea, which is loaded with more sugar than is good for anyone (serious note: Morocco, like many other nations, has a serious diabetes problem).

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The Supratours coach to Essaouira costs 80 dirhams, takes 3 hours and is driven by another candidate for Shittest Driver Of The Year Award. As Keith said: ‘This man has received more phone calls during this journey that I do in a month’. And he wasn’t hands-free, although, bless him, he did try to untangle his headphones whilst overtaking a truck at 120km an hour. Credit where its due. Here he is. Untangling. In the outside lane. Shame you can’t see the truck.

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He subsequently gave up and returned to hands.

Apart from the fear of death, its a great ride west to the coast. The snow capped Atlas mountains run alongside for part of the way (camera on phone couldn’t do it justice) and then the landscape flattens right out.

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Since my last visit, they’ve built a motorway with a toll. What this means is that no one uses it. Completely empty. Pity the poor fella at the toll booth. What does he do all day?

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I have mixed emotions about coming to Essaouira, but as I also have alexithymia (look it up) I don’t know what they are (autism joke). The next bit is a bit of potentially dull and self indulgent back story, so please skip off if you just want to know that if you order jus de pommes in Morocco, you get apple milkshake rather than apple juice and it is bloody lovely. The same applies to jus de bananes but not jus d’orange. They also offer avocado juice but I’ve never been brave enough to see what turns up. Why don’t we do apple milkshake in England? It could catch on.

Anyway, the back story: I first came to Morocco in 2001, a few weeks after the 9/11 bombings, a time when Arabic countries were not the most popular of holiday destinations. I’d been fascinated by Morocco for years and always wanted to go, but money, kids and bravery had got in the way. My sister in law and I got a cheap package deal to Agadir, just used the flight and set off on buses around Morocco for a week. She was a seasoned worldwide traveller; I was a wimp who’d never been further than Torrelmolinos. Sounds perfectly feasible so far, but there is a back story to the back story. During the few months prior to this trip several major things had happened in my life: my mum had died (second parent), my marriage had ended, I’d ended up living in a tent at the age of 33 with my two children and I’d had a bit of a breakdown at the top of the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona (with hindsight this was undoubtedly the result of the accumulation of previous events) which was due to affect me in many ways for the rest of my life so far (panic attacks, agoraphobia etc.). In short, every piece of certainty in my life had disappeared. These cheery events were to form the basis of my first and last Edinburgh Fringe comedy show in 2013. It was funnier that it sounds (‘The thinking person’s Sarah Millican’ – Three Weeks review). The autism was a distant future discovery waiting to happen.

To cut a very long story short, I came to Morocco (fairly tanked up on Diazepam in order to get on the plane – at this time I needed it to get on a bus, get in a lift or go to the cinema), went to Essaouira, loved it beyond measure, and feeling extremely strongly that due to everything that had happened, I needed a tiny corner of the world that no one could take away from me. I couldn’t afford one closer to home (single parent, renting, working part time in a college), so here it was gonna be. I planned to move here when my kids had grown up. It felt possible, affordable and weirdly, somewhere I felt I could fit (some fabulous bonkers expats end up in Morocco). I brought my brother and his wife over and convinced them that this was a good thing to do, I took out a bank loan (credit was easy in those days) and so between us we bought the house for £16,000 in Essaouira medina that was going to be my home one day.

To cut a long story short again: fast forward lots of wonderful holidays, ongoing problems with the house, higher than expected building costs, more loans, crippling debt, huge stress, ill health, up for sale for 2 years, sold for a pittance, thought we would never get the money out of the country, more crippling debt. The money turned up randomly in bank account over a year after the sale, haven’t been back for 5 years. All too much to face.

So, apple milkshake.

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So, we’re here. This is Essaouira. An ancient fishing port and town on the Atlantic coast of Morocco, long since been a hangout for kite and windsurfers due to the almost consistently windy and yet protected nature of the bay. I once went windsurfing here with a friend. We hired our wetsuits, handed to us by a gentleman in the shop and made the long walk across the sand to the sea. Someone took a photo: two people in wetsuits, one with a large ‘M’ on the back, the other with ‘XXXL’. Bastard. It was way too big for me. Honest.

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Inside the medina is a crazy bustle of life, but a laid-back, kind of friendly one (as opposed to the more cut-throat Marrakech version). It’s strange to be back in a place which holds so many emotions and experiences. I’ve changed, but Essaouira hasn’t; and nor has the way I felt about it 13 years ago.

Now, all I need to do is to check that they have a decent dialysis clinic and a requirement for autism training. In English. Then, we’re sorted. I’ve written books you know? Don’t you know who I am? Now where’s that estate agent?

Keith, why are you making that face? Do you have sand in your eye?

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